‘OK, Boomer’ is not OK

Talking 'bout my generation

Older man on the beach (photo by Rudy Anderson from Pixabay)
Older man on the beach (photo by Rudy Anderson from Pixabay)

I rise today in defense of Baby Boomers.

There are vitally important Boomer accomplishments. Such as…

OK, give me a second. 

Hold on.

Um, I’ve got nothing.

And, still, “OK, Boomer” is not OK.

In case you haven’t heard, “OK, Boomer” is the ready retort whenever a Boomer says something that some member of a younger generation views as clueless — indicative of a dull, outmoded, not-with-it, Boomer mindset.

As in. 

Me: “Have you thought about how that facial tattoo will make any employer think twice about hiring you?”

Non-Boomer, rolling eyes: “OK, Boomer.”

Or. 

Me: “There are many pathways to universal healthcare. Medicare-for-all might just turn off so many folks who don’t want to lose their private insurance that Donald Trump ekes out another Electoral College win.”

Non-Boomer, eyes still rolling: “OK, Boomer.”

I know there really are Boomer accomplishments. I tend to focus on our failures because we have some doozies. You know, being slow to catch on early enough to the existential threat that is climate change and a war in Iraq to rid the world of non-existent weapons of mass destruction key among them. 

Yes, technological wonders such as cell phones, the internet and social media have, well, boomed on the Boomer watch, though they thrive because non-Boomers have embraced them to create their own cultures.  

Yes, we Boomers often don’t “get it,” and there seems to be a strong constituency for us to just meekly sit down whenever we hear, “OK, Boomer.” 

It’s still wrong. That’s because it dispenses with the need to deal with disagreeable people at all. In effect, cancelling them.

Barack Obama recently took on the always-woke, cancel culture.

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” Obama said. “You should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids. And share certain things with you.” 

And this, of course, was essentially dismissed with “OK, Boomer.” 

So, let me risk the same dismissal by picking up on his point (but noting what he failed to acknowledge, even if he has in other instances).

Unless you are a member of a homogenous, like-minded super majority that can snap its fingers and make things happen — or make bad things stop happening — you will always have to deal with people who disagree with you. 

The problem: The simple act of disagreement seems to scandalize sensibilities among the younger cohort so much and so often that they simply “cancel” those who disagree. Mostly, of course, that isn’t possible. Not at home, in the workplace, on campus or in the body politic.

We’re not talking here of that n-word-using racist, the outspoken homophobe, the nativist who lumps all immigrants into categories to denigrate or the guy who flavors his mansplaining with sexist tropes or grabby hands. By all means, “cancel” them, though there is some value in paying attention to what they say and do if only to be aware of the dangers they pose to democracy and civility. 

But we are talking here also of folks for whom those sentiments are, if we are being honest, not necessarily foreign — though rarely, if ever, acted upon because they essentially get why other folks think it is wrong. They can be reasoned with. And then there are the people with whom you may simply have policy disagreements, among them, perhaps, the best route to universal health care. 

What Obama was likely talking about was a tendency to cancel anyone who disagrees by automatically assuming their views come from dark, sinister places. This is the stuff from which “us and them” is made.

In elections, one side wins. But the win usually comes without the mandate victors generally claim. In fact, those wins are often set-ups for deadlock in the Boomer generation. That’s because of Boomers’ not-so-secret tendency to also subscribe to the cancel culture. This is what Obama failed to acknowledge. 

Yes, looking at you Wisconsin, where a Democratic governor and a GOP Legislature remain at loggerheads. 

And therein lies the only lapse in Obama’s critique of the cancel culture. Boomers have, if not invented it, at least made cancellation accepted practice. Legislative gridlock has been the enduring feature of the not-so-golden age of Boomers.

The truth is that the younger generation did not create the cancel culture from whole cloth. Boomers have been modeling the behavior for a while now, though the younger generations threaten to develop it into an art form. 

If they’re smart, they won’t. That’s because “OK, Boomer” is actually designed to shut down argument. As in no need even to make the argument because your side is so “woke,” so right. The object ceases to be persuasion. It is simply about overwhelming the other side with brute political strength and numbers.

The problem: Rarely is it the case that either side has that degree of strength or enough people. But at least you have the comfort of being “woke” and “right” … and nothing gets done.

Yeah, I know: “OK, Boomer.”

O. Ricardo Pimentel
O. Ricardo Pimentel has been a journalist for about 40 years. He was most recently the editorial page editor for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that. He has also worked in various editing and reporting positions in newspapers in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C., where he covered Congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court for McClatchy Newspapers. He is the author of two novels and lives in Wisconsin.